Preacher, Doodle. Doo.

March 18, 2016

David Prince is one of my favorite contemporary authors in the field of homiletics. His blog posts, book Church with Jesus as Hero, and dissertation on “The Necessity of a Christocentric Kingdom Focused Model of Expository Preaching” are clear, engaging, theologically robust, and yet eminently practical. He’s a pastor, homiletics professor, a passionate proponent of Christocentric preaching, and huge baseball fan. I mean, what’s not to like about that combination!

In a recent blog post David gave three approaches to sermon preparation “that are not usually considered as normal parts of the discussion when one thinks about how to prepare a sermon.”

One of those approaches was “Doodle the Word.”

I use the term “doodle” here rather than “draw” because no one could confuse the sketching I do in sermon preparation as legitimate art (you may be a far more capable artist than I am). Doodling helps me attempt to conceptualize the message of the sermon. I usually have the text that I will be preaching printed on a sheet of paper, and if possible, I prefer to have it all on one page so that I can see the entire text. As I think through and study the text, I simply doodle circles, highlights, lines, and a variety of other things, most of which, no other human being would be able to make sense of, on the paper. Sometimes, I also draw pictures that aid me in conceptualizing the imagery or scene of a given text. Other times, I attempt to write a rhyming verse (I am certainly no poet), trying to encapsulate the message of the text. Putting pen to paper helps me internalize my thinking in a way that a keyboard does not. This kind of creativity in sermon preparation was common with John Bunyan, John Newton, Isaac Watts, and others.

I too have found it helpful to doodle. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising in light of the number of articles and studies confirming the benefits of writing things out by hand.

Here’s an example of the kind of doodling I do when preparing to preach on a particular text.

As you can see there’s nothing truly artistic here (like what the super creative guys over at The Bible Project are doing)–just some boxes and lines and circles. But I am engaging my hand and my head in ways that help me see, and therefore, understand the passage with greater clarity.

The Process

  1. I begin by doing a structural display of the passage. This visual helps me see the passage “at a glance” and discern its organization. It also helps me understand the relationships between the individual clauses and phrases. (Mine is in English, but you might prefer to use the original languages.)
  2. Then I print out several copies of the display for use as I take notes.
  3. The first copy I use to record my own personal observations and reflections on the text.
  4. Subsequent copies are used as I interact with commentaries and other secondary sources. In the example above I used the display to take notes as I read through George Knight’s commentary on the Pastoral Epistles in the NIGNT series.

The display not only allows me to doodle on the text, it also allows me to verify from the text. Here’s what I mean–as I interact with the data and conclusions coming from the commentators I want to be able to see for myself from the text that what they are saying is truly biblical. So I am constantly glancing back and forth between the text of Scripture and the words of the commentator. Can they convince me based on the details of the text or context that what they are arguing for is accurate?

Doodling on the text keeps the details of the text before me.

Doodling on the text keeps me from mindlessly embracing what some guy with a Ph.D. says without Berean-like verification.

So, preacher, perhaps it’s time you doo some doodling.


Question: Do you doodle as part of your sermon preparation? What kind of doodling do you do? Have you found it helpful?



Kerry McGonigal

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In Adam by birth but in Christ by grace. That's my story. Husband to one and father of three. Pastor, homiletics teacher, and passionate proponent of expository preaching. If you like what you've read and want to be notified of future posts, take a second and subscribe via RSS or email (on the right sidebar). Opinions expressed here are my own.

7 responses to Preacher, Doodle. Doo.

  1. Sometimes I do this as well, especially for my Wednesday night sermons. When I “doodle,” I’ve learned that my doodles should be large enough and neat enough to read while I’m preaching 🙂

  2. Ashish Majmundar March 18, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Kerry. This is very helpful. I have found a similar method to be very helpful. I have free software on my Mac called ‘Sketch Book’. Similar to the multiple physical copies, this software allows you to create ‘layers’ which can be hidden/shown. So, for instance, I create a layer for the Greek text, another for the English translation, another for drawing lines connecting words/phrases etc. Depending on what you are doing, you can work with a particular layer, or even merge layers together for a unified view. I use my Wacom tablet and pen/stylus to write/scribble/’doodle’ 🙂 like one would on paper.

    • My approach is to type my notes in a word processor. Then print onto paper. Then write on the print copy with ink pen. My process is still evolving though. Thanks for sharing your approach bro.

    • I’ll have to look into that, Ashish. Sounds like a great way of combining digital technology with the benefits of handwriting. Thanks for sharing!

  3. By the way, I recently posted some thoughts on preaching styles: and

  4. Is there somewhere to find structural displays of bible passages like you have shown or is that some type of software/app or personal? Thanks.

    • Chris, there are three primary tools at your disposal for displaying your preaching unit in a visual manner: a grammatical diagram, a propositional display, or a structural display. For in-depth help with diagramming, see Schreiner, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles, 77–96. Another tool designed to help you diagram a passage from the New Testament is found in BibleWorks 7.0-9.0. Randy Leedy, New Testament professor at the Bob Jones University Seminary, produced these diagrams in conjunction with BibleWorks for the entire New Testament. All you have to do is right click on the Greek text and select “Open NT Diagram at this Word.” Leedy’s diagrams are an invaluable tool for those who do not have the time or the ability to do their own diagrams, or who simply want to check their own work. For an explanation of the propositional display method, see Schreiner, 97-126 and John Callow and John Beekman, Translating the Word of God: With Scripture and Topical Indexes (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 287–312. There are propositional displays on Logos Bible Software. However, for the structural displays, like the one I have pictured in this post, I am not aware of any resource that has these for the entire NT. I do them personally. If you’d like some help learning how to do them, I’d check out Fee, Gordon D. New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastor. 3rd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 41-58. Hope that helps!